A Matter of Taste

Was very glad to be part of a group show at DrawInc. down in Hamilton from the 1 June – 14 June 2014, opening night on 30 May 2014. Curated by the lovely Kate Powell, Ros (a friend of mine whom I studied with at Whitecliffe College) is also part of this show. Peter Dornauf, a writer for Eyecontact did a review of this show, which was surprisingly constructive. The topic of Kitsch as art has always been quite controversial, well, from my point of view anyway. This exhibition isn’t a celebration or a mockery per se, but rather a demonstration of what young artists in today’s contemporary culture have come to define kistch as. I don’t consider my artworks as kistch, but it does have an appeal that makes it quite dainty and lowbrow. I guess it comes down to one’s matter of taste.


Thomas Kulka said that “if works were to be judged democratically- that is, according to how many people like them, then kitsch would easily defeat all of its competitors.”

Kitsch has had an ebb and flow relationship with both critical and popular opinion. Naysayers dismiss it for its overt garishness, sentiment, and mass-produced marketability. At the most extreme end of this spectrum, there are those who believe that kitsch is bad, even immoral for deliberately evoking such cheap and easy emotions. This is supposedly achieved by presenting the viewer with a world that is comfortingly perfect, but an illusion all the same.

Despite these acerbic accusations, Kitsch has become an artistic field that holds a considerable amount of power, perhaps for the very reasons it was first reviled. It is still branded as art that cares nothing for taste. Therefore it has become a crucial element of modern culture, where ‘serious’ art may have little to it beyond a declaration of ‘superior’ judgment by a handful of academics.

Within contemporary art, aspects of Kitsch are recycled in an ironic or knowing way. It is a way of turning social commentary about irony and style as well as all of the associated Hipster-sque attitudes and assumptions into a commodity and vice-versa. By referencing Kitsch there is an argument for artists highlighting our dissatisfaction with the present. Our world is one created by the industrial revolution, urbanisation, and capitalism. While this is paradoxically partially what Kitsch celebrated, there is also an underlying desire for the past. But why do we have such strong sentimentality for bygone eras? Is it because of our desires for a more easily defined past? Does it help us feel superior to a more innocent past? Or to recognise with affection the innocent desires and foibles of the past?

Ultimately, trying to define what Kitsch ‘is’ is a bit like walking into a roomful of mirrors- it ultimately reflects ones own prejudices about what constitutes ‘good’ art and design, and arguably speaks volumes about the individual just as much as the object.  Within the realms of this exhibition, the artists have been asked to explore notions of decoration, domesticity, and collectability in relation to Kitsch.

There is an inherent tension between the domestic and the aesthetic in Kitsch. This is emphasised in this exhibition by the loosely domestic layout of the exhibition within the gallery space.  True to the subjective nature of Kitsch, the works that have been created in this respond to the aforementioned themes in a myriad of ways, referencing both aesthetic, historical and perhaps future tropes of Kitsch-  from garish colours and cheap materials to  Tretchikov-inspired portraiture and souvenir knick-nacks- to highlight how Kitsch questions the notion of good design as  well as commodifies nostalgia in the modern age.  This is an exhibition that has the potential to simultaneously evoke memories and provoke a response in equal measures. But in the end, it is all A Matter of Taste.

 -Kate Powell, May 2014

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